Two western Queensland communities with strong links to Qantas’ rich aviation history have called for a better deal for families and businesses, in submissions lodged on Monday to the Senate enquiry into the operation, regulation and funding of air route service delivery to rural, regional and remote communities.
The Cloncurry Shire Council submitted that current airfare costs were having far-reaching social and economic implications on the town and region, while Longreach Regional Enterprise said airfare pricing was isolating people more than ever.
According to Cloncurry mayor, Greg Campbell, air travel was simply beyond what most families could afford.
“Our analysis showed that a family of four travelling from Cloncurry to Brisbane will pay three to four times as much as a family travelling from Brisbane to Melbourne,” he said. “Communities in rural and remote Australia deserve a better deal from commercial carriers.”
He described residents as being held to ransom and being denied basic freedoms when it came to accessing medical specialists and cultural, academic and sporting pursuits.
The effect high airfares have on discouraging people into the region, either potential new residents fearing the cost of keeping in touch with family elsewhere, or attracting tourists, were also noted in the Longreach submission.
While acknowledging the factors that go into deciding airfares, such as yield management strategies (variable pricing based on understanding, anticipating and influencing consumer behaviour in order to maximise revenue from a fixed, time-limited resource), the business development group concentrated on the effect that high fares have on the ability of western Queensland to flourish.
New services linking Queensland’s west with the central coast, larger planes for certain services, group bookings to cater for tourism, and continuing with regulation were the main points put forward by Longreach Regional Enterprise.
At the moment, the central western centre receives 564 QantasLink seats a week, shared with Blackall and Barcaldine on Q400 planes, a vastly different scenario to the Brisbane market, where 500 seats a minute are being booked.
Because of this, LRE acknowledged that regulating routes provided the region with a certainty it didn’t wish to lose or have reduced.
“Deregulation may attract an opposition carrier but it is understood that Mount Isa, a bigger centre than Longreach, had great difficulties with competition, pricing and equitable fares,” it said.
The LRE submission commented that the Brisbane to Longreach route was regulated but not subsidised, whereas the flights to Barcaldine and Blackall, part of the same route, were subsidised.
Qantas has not responded to any of the comments to date, saying it was making its own submission to the enquiry, which would be available soon.
“We’re committed to working with the government and all stakeholders on providing the services regional Australia needs, and will participate in the inquiry with a focus on the economics of airline operations in regional ports,” a spokeswoman said.
“We understand how important accessible air travel is for residents of Longreach; that’s why we offer travellers from Longreach special resident fares for services to Brisbane which are $175 one-way, all year round.”
Although resident fares appeared to be an equitable solution, the LRE submission said they couldn’t be obtained within a reasonable time of travel, and so the costs remained too high.
They grappled with the concept of fare prices being higher the fuller a plane was, and the closer it was to a travel date, especially when planes weren’t full on the day of travel.
Much of the LRE submission was directed at filling seats and presumably bringing in more revenue for the operator, by more links with Rockhampton, because of the education, health and business links that exist and could be built on.
It also suggested less costly bulk bookings for tour groups, currently inhibited by the seat price variation issue, which doesn’t occur with bus or train travel providers.
A final observation was that the Q300 and Q400 used on the central west route were among the older planes in the Qantas fleet, and so “therefore will experience even more breakdowns in the future”.
“In keys events, the airline providers can find customised services to fill the schedules – maybe similar action for breakdowns need to be looked at.”
The submission quoted former federal Regional Development Minister, Fiona Nash, who said investing in the regions was essential for Australia, because strong regions mean a strong nation.
Cloncurry mayor, Greg Campbell, finished that shire’s submission by offering the town as an ideal location for the Senate committee to hold a hearing.